Rediscovering the Spirit of Christmas

It’s fair to say I seem to have rediscovered some of the magic and joy and spirit of Christmas since the birth of my two little boys.  It’s not that I was quite auditioning to be in grumpy old men yet, but as you reach adulthood certain things about Christmas do lose their sparkle a bit.

By comparison Asher is just four and Father Christmas is the great new discovery of 2012.  He did love Christmas last year, but he’s young enough not to remember anything from twelve months ago, so everything has the added excitement of being brand new.

Asher loves the tree, and the decorations, and the food.  He loves the stockings, and the story of Father Christmas, and the story of the nativity too.

But there’s one thing he doesn’t quite get yet, though I pray he one day will.  And that’s that behind all the presents and the tree and the decorations and the Christmas Spirit and the nativity story is a reality, an event, so amazing that every soul on earth deserves to hear it.

“Peace on earth”, sang the angels, but what kind of peace?  Murderous King Herod was still on his throne as Jesus grew up.  In fact the peace was of an even more important sort than between nations or tribes or families – peace between earth and heaven.

The story of humanity so far has largely been one of conflict, and the same goes of the relationship between people and God.  But Christmas celebrates a huge change in that story.

In Jesus, God, like the parent in a dysfunctional family where no one has spoken for years, makes the first decisive move to bring peace and reconciliation with humanity.  And how?  By coming to earth himself as a human being so that friendship with God is possible.  Christians call this the Incarnation of the Son of God.

Asher doesn’t quite get this yet.  Not the big words, not the peace on earth, not quite even the friendship with God.

I asked him the other night, actually, as I was putting him to bed.  “Asher, are you friends with Jesus?”  “Yes”, he replied.  “So let’s thank Jesus – what shall we thank Jesus for today, Asher?”

“Everything”, he said.   “Everything – why everything?”  “Because if we say ‘everything’ we can stop and say Amen.”

He’s a crafty one, but one day my prayer is that he will really get it – prayer that is.  That behind the ‘Dear Jesus’ and the palms held together and the words we say and the Amen is the reality that God is not so far away, in fact he is very near.  Have you felt his presence this Christmastime?

We can all be a bit like my 4 year old son.  We can focus on the signs – the presents and the food and the beautiful music and the readings and even the prayers, but has the penny ever dropped about the glorious reality behind it?  The most amazing thing about the Christmas story is summed up in that word that people called Jesus – Emmanuel – God with us.  God alongside us, ahead of us, behind us, within us, among us when we meet together.  Once we realise this we’re never alone, never without hope, always with purpose in our lives.

Does it feel like that this Christmas.  Are those Christmas carols singing to you as you sing them?  Have the readings we’ve heard spoken spoken to you?  Christmas comes but once a year, but the real Spirit of Christmas is a message and a reality which lasts the whole year long, in your heart and mine, if we will but let our saviour in.

As the words of the carol say “O come let us adore him”.

Have a very Merry and Spirit-filled Christmas, and blessed beginning to 2013.


(Something a bit like the talk given at our service of Nine Lessons and Carols on Saturday 22nd )

A Difficult week for the Church

This week was a highly significant one for the Church of England, and for all the wrong reasons.  After narrowly failing in a vote to allow women bishops there are many within the church who feel bitter and led down about what happened and plenty outside who are questioning what century we’re living in.  In the words of David Cameron, why can’t the Church just ‘get with the programme’?

Women’s ministry has not been a big issue in conversation these ten months I’ve been at St Mary’s.  I’ve not preached on it on Sunday and there’s been no conversation about it at our church council (PCC), so I can’t claim to speak on behalf of our church here.  What I have found is that not everyone feels the same, so I am almost bound to offend someone whatever I say.  It’s a very important issue, though, so I do feel I need to say something.

The events of this week have greatly disappointed and saddened me.  Personally I see no reason why women should not be allowed to take up any position of leadership in the Church, and during my time at St Mary’s gender will not play a role in whether and how I encourage someone in ministry.

But that’s not a whole lot to do with ‘getting with the programme’.  As Evangelical Anglican Tom Wright has said this week the Church would not have got very far in the first century by getting with the programme of the rulers of the time.  It’s important to acknowledge, therefore, that sometimes the Church have courage and stand against the way the world thinks.

That said, I do not think this week is one of those times.  In scripture I see Jesus as radically inclusive of women in his ministry beyond all expectations of his time, and Paul writing in Galatians that in Christ all barriers have been broken down, including those of men and women (Galatians 3:28ff).  At some point, with love and respect and underpinned by lots of prayer, St Mary’s needs to have a conversation about what we believe here.

I think this week has also caught us short as a church, locally as well as nationally.  Nationally when 42 out of 44 dioceses passed the measure and the overwhelming majority of those locally and regionally are for the move, how can it be that those who voted at General Synod were so unrepresentative?

Locally at St Mary’s we need to reflect on why we’re not as engaged as we should be with the wider Church, and why for most of us the first news of the vote would have been what we read in the papers.  It may be some time before another vote takes place, but by then I hope we will be a bit more considered as a congregation and have at least some representation on Diocesan Synod.

In the meantime please pray for those who struggle with the result of this week’s vote, and for those who feel the sharp end of our culture by opposing it.  Above all pray that Christ’s one church would not let this issue or any other prevent the unity that Jesus himself prayed for us.

Rich Burley, 24th November 2012

Welcome to the new St Mary’s website!

St Mary’s Wythall is a vibrant and growing church, so we thought it was time to give our online presence a bit of a makeover.  We hope you’ll agree that the new site reflects the sort of community we’re becoming and communicates more clearly what we do.

St Mary’s has a wide range of ministries and activities, from our extensive youth and children’s work to our care for older people.  Browse the menu above to find, for example, details on booking a wedding or a baptism, information about all our Sunday services and a place you can submit a prayer request.

Much of the content on the site is updated regularly, with a calendar of all our activities and main events displayed in the bar on the right of every page.  In addition we’ll be regularly bringing you good news stories of all that’s happening at St Mary’s, plus a blog where I’ll be posting messages and reflections.

As well as a new website, St Mary’s is also launching a Facebook page – like us to receive updates on what’s on at St Mary’s – and a Twitter account with a live feed on the site.

We hope you enjoy the site, and do let us know what you think by sending an email to

Rich Burley – November 2012